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Selig To Study Expanded
Playoffs This Offseason
Addressing a subject of intense media interest in recent days, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig last night leveled perhaps his strongest statement to date in favor of adding two wild card teams to the postseason format. "Do I like the idea? Yes, I like it enough so we'll seriously consider it," Selig said of adding a wild card team in each league. Expanding the playoffs, however, remains under study and no certainty exists for when and even if a decision will be made. Enlarging the playoffs is additionally subject to collective bargaining with the players' union. "I said before that we're going to look at all of it, and we are," he said. "There are a lot of considerations, there's no question about it. The pragmatism is what's most difficult. ... The basic question is whether eight of 30 teams [making the playoffs] is fair." As has been the case, an expanded playoffs would need to fit within Selig's desire to end the season before November and clubs' resistance to eliminating regular-season games. The issue will be discussed further at owners' and general managers' meetings slated for Nov. 15-19 in Orlando (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). Selig said that it is "possible that the format could change in time for next postseason, but the issue must be collectively bargained with the Players Association and likely will be discussed during next year's negotiations for a new" CBA. MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner said that there is a "division among the players whether to move forward on the concept, but they are open to talking about it" (MLB.com, 10/31).
PLAYERS REMAIN DIVIDED: Weiner said that "a 'substantial number' of players favor the addition of a second wild-card team to the playoff field." He added that a "'consideration that a lot of players have' is to help a team such as the Rays, who are constantly battling the financial behemoths of the AL East." Weiner noted that "not all the players agree with increasing the field from the present eight, as some take a bigger picture and longer-term view of what's best for the game." In St. Petersburg, Marc Topkin reported the players "will seek to form a consensus at a December board meeting in Orlando then come up with a preferred format (a one-game play-in, two-of-three, etc.) and structure" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 10/31). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote, "I can't wait for the first Thanksgiving World Series." He added, "Apparently, three playoff rounds and more than $6 billion in annual revenue -- about three times what the game brought in before the Division Series were added -- is not quite enough to keep the yachts and the private jets gassed up. ... The baseball postseason is just fine the way it is. There's no compelling reason to add any more playoff teams" (Baltimore SUN, 10/31).
WHERE'S THE BUZZ? YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote the Rangers-Giants World Series is "narcoleptic ... beyond the cities involved." It has "less buzz than a dead bee." And it is "not just TV ratings or coastal biases," it is the "issue that cuts to the core of Bud Selig's supposed golden age." Passan: "For all the gaudy attendance numbers put up in the regular season, MLB's inability to retain casual fans during the postseason is harrowing. Baseball has turned into an April-to-September pastime, one with such strong regional ties that it backfires when the sport goes national. As inconsequential as television ratings are to anybody beyond Fox, they provide an unbiased barometer of interest. ... It's one thing for LeBron and Co. to steal headlines from baseball's marquee event; it's another for it to happen in the first week of an NBA regular season that long ago lost its import. This is the World Series, and baseball is third fiddle" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/31). In N.Y., Joel Sherman wrote it is "staggering to still hear about the lack of competitive balance in the major leagues even as the Rangers and Giants play in the World Series." Sherman: "When people talk about a competitive-balance problem, I think they mean a Yankees problem, since they are the financial outlier of the sport. ... MLB still comparatively hangs in just fine against the NFL when it comes to competitive balance" (N.Y. POST, 10/31).
New MLB Rule Prohibits Teams From Taking
Drinks Onto Field As Part Of Celebrations
IMAGE IS EVERYTHING: In N.Y., Tim Arango in a front-page piece reported MLB is "making its latest attempt to crack down on the alcoholic version" of postgame celebrations. MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations Rob Manfred said that the league two weeks ago "quietly issued new guidelines to teams." Teams now "must limit Champagne; offer a non-alcoholic version; beer and other types of alcoholic drinks are banned; and teams are not allowed to bring the drinks on the field." Manfred: "We have concerns that these celebrations that have traditionally been held not get out of hand. This is an issue that we periodically revisit." Former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said, "The celebrations are unattractive in large measure because they involve alcohol. It's ritualized, and I think it's silly" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/31).
RETIREMENT PLANS: Asked if he was bothered that nobody believes his oft-stated plan to retire at the end of '12 when his current contract expires, Selig said "No. I don't even really think about that. It's something that may have bothered me back in the '90s, but not now" (Fisher).
NFL's Annual London Game Draws Festive
Crowd That Was Solidly Behind 49ers
London has "far from exhausted its appetite" for the NFL, as the atmosphere for yesterday's Broncos-49ers game at Wembley Stadium was "spine-tingling, of an intensity to make the average England football qualifier look like an extraordinarily well-attended garden party," according to Oliver Brown of the London TELEGRAPH. It was a "pity, then, that none of the early action could match the memorable preamble, illustrated by Michelle Williams' soaring version of Star-Spangled Banner" (London TELEGRAPH, 11/1). In London, Nick Szczepanik writes the game "drew as loud and passionate a crowd as the other three" games played at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL International Series. Instead of the "novelty wearing off, the sense that if it's October, it must be the NFL at Wembley seems to be a welcome one to followers of all teams." The "number of replica shirts from the other 31 franchises proved that the game remains a rallying point for those who are hungry for any authentic NFL product." But Szczepanik notes while the game "played to a full house, the issue remains as to whether American football is growing its audience or preaching solely to the converted." Szczepanik: "How far the NFL is winning over new British hearts and minds remains to be seen" (LONDON TIMES, 11/1). The GUARDIAN's Paolo Bandini notes Wembley was "packed out with fans in replica jerseys who had paid anything up to" US$160 for a ticket. Approximately 38,000 fans also "attended the previous day's fan rally in Trafalgar Square." The 49ers won the game 24-16, and Bandini writes London "had been due an entertaining fixture." Giants-Dolphins in '07 "had been of shockingly low-quality," and last year's Patriots-Buccaneers matchup was a "lopsided blow-out." Only the Saints' 37-32 win over the Chargers in '08 "had provided entertainment to match the pre-game shows and tailgate parties that the NFL does so well" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 11/1).
Wembley Stadium Crowd Seemed More
Knowledgeable Of NFL Than Past Years
FANS MORE FOOTBALL-SAVVY: In Sacramento, Matthew Barrows writes the 49ers and Broncos "found a much more NFL-savvy audience" than has attended the previous NFL games in London. 49ers fans "knew precisely when to get noisy, although they did it in a unique way -- booing when trying to rattle the Broncos offense at pivotal moments." 49ers RB Frank Gore: "Every time we made a big play, they were cheering for us. When the Broncos were on the offensive side of the ball, they were making a lot of noise" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 11/1). In London, Szczepanik notes the 49ers were the "home" team for the game, and their fans "were in the majority." The game "showed that the appetite in this country for live NFL regular-season games remains strong." News from other games "shown on the big screens revealed a myriad of allegiances" (London INDEPENDENT, 11/1). In Denver, Lindsay Jones wrote it was "clear the game was hardly a home match for the 49ers," because it "felt like the majority of fans at the stadium ... cheered just for the sake of cheering." Jones: "They were fans of offense and big hits on defense. They seemed to especially love field goals." Wembley officials "did an admirable job of piping in music and scoreboard segments ... to keep the international fans who may not be used to the American football game entertained" (DENVERPOST.com, 10/31). Jones today notes the NFL "threw a giant tailgate party outside Wembley Stadium" yesterday, marking the "first time the league opened the tailgate party to all ticket holders." In the past, fans "had to apply for a special pregame pass." Jones writes the fans "seemed to fully embrace" the tailgate. They started filing into the event "six hours before kickoff," and "wore jerseys, new and old" (DENVER POST, 11/1).
LONG-TERM PLAN: In Denver, Mike Klis reported NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Saturday in London held a Fan Forum that "drew 170 fans from 13 countries." Goodell said that the league's "next step internationally is to add at least a second regular-season game to London's schedule before deciding whether to deliver a franchise here" (DENVER POST, 10/31). CBS' Charley Casserly said, "Next year, there will be one game in London, and in 2012, there'll be two games " ("The NFL Today," CBS, 10/31). 49ers President & CEO Jed York Friday said that the league's "ultimate goal in its foreign ventures must be to have London-based franchise." York: "We need to figure out what is the end result. I think we are a ways away from that but I think when you sell out four games in a row do you start to bring more teams over here or bring more games? I think that is the next step but the ultimate goal is to have a franchise in London." REUTERS' Neil Maidment noted the NFL's "standing in England has been helped by its links between its teams" and EPL clubs. While York "does not want to buy a Premier League team, the link between the two sports is something York wants to tap into." He said, "We are just starting to put our toe in the water, reaching out to some of the (Premier League) clubs and just having conversations and seeing how they and us are running our businesses" (REUTERS, 10/29).
BEST WAY TO GROW: Goodell said that the league "distinguishes between 'casual' and 'avid' supporters," and that the International Series has "moved European fans from the first to latter category." The BBC's Bill Wilson noted Goodell hopes it will "lead to commercial success, with more purchases of NFL product, and also increased engagement with NFL media products" (BBC.co.uk, 10/29). Goodell acknowledged that it is "'painful' for teams to give up a home game," and added that is "one of the reasons the NFL is considering expanding its regular season schedule to 18 games." The AP's Mattias Karen wrote sending teams "so far to play in front of foreigners may seem extreme, but Goodell insists it's the best way to connect with international fans -- especially because most of them never have a chance to play the sport themselves." Goodell: "How do we promote a sport that is not played by the youth in each of those markets? But I think that's where media and bringing our game to those markets meets those challenges. We've seen it here in this marketplace, we've seen it in Japan, Mexico and Canada" (AP, 10/30). The DENVER POST's Jones noted from the NFL's perspective, the International Series is "better for promoting the league and growing an international fan base than the now-defunct NFL Europe." NFL VP/Int'l Business Chris Parsons said the league "ended up learning a lot" from NFL Europe, and "felt the reason that people were engaging with the NFL is they wanted to see our best product" (DENVER POST, 10/31).
The NFL is "building a nearly $900 million lockout pool financed from the savings the league reaped by not paying non-health care benefits to players this year as well as from revenue the league is holding back from the teams," according to sources cited by Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources indicated that the money, $28M from each of the 32 teams, is "in addition to reserves the league has saved that are sufficient to pay for two years of interest" on roughly $1B of "stadium debt that flows through the league." The league last week at its annual bank meeting in Dallas "briefed its lenders on the financial contingency planning." The nearly $900M is "spread between two pools of money." The first is the $10M each franchise "saved in March when the teams did not have to pay non-health care benefits, such as life insurance or pension-plan payments." Sources said that the NFL "instructed the teams to hold onto that money and not spend it." The league also is "in the process of holding back $18 million per club from pooled revenue that otherwise would have been paid out to them." The $576M total, plus the $320M saved from health care, "will serve as the main lockout funding for the league" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/1 issue).
Roger Goodell Echoes York's Contention That
CBA Strife Is Hurting 49ers-Santa Clara Deal
DOLLARS & SENSE: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday said that uncertainty surrounding the CBA "is making it difficult to finance" the 49ers' proposed new stadium in Santa Clara. Goodell, speaking on the eve of the Broncos-49ers game at London's Wembley Stadium, said, "It's the CBA. That's what (investors) are concerned about. They want to make sure that the CBA is something that will allow them to finance a stadium. And that's challenging in this environment." Goodell added, "I think (new stadiums) are great for the fans, but the financing no longer comes from the public sector. A lot of these stadiums are being moved to privately run facilities. And that's fine. It's a transition. But that transition is changing the economics for the owners" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 10/31). More Goodell: "The clubs are making more and more cognizant investments in those stadiums. In addition, they have to maintain those stadiums in many cases. That's a financial obligation that they didn't have. And then the third, which is starting to hit, is they have to upgrade those stadiums with capital expenditures, which is an extraordinary amount of money. Those are expenses that we've never had before" (DENVER POST, 10/31).
READY FOR A BATTLE: Goodell said, "Both sides are going to be prepared for all alternatives. That’s what they should do. Anyone who enters into a negotiation and is not prepared will probably not be successful. I’m sure the players have been taking preparations. They’ve been talking about how they’ve been doing that for some period of time. And the owners will be doing the same." Attorney Bob Batterman will be the NFL's "chief negotiator," and Goodell said, "Bob Batterman is an outstanding labor attorney. He has not only represented the NHL, he has represented many other organizations and reached successful conclusions without lockouts. We’re not going to be told who to be represented by." In Denver, Mike Klis noted he has "been dubbed 'Lockout' Batterman." But Goodell said, "They can call him anything they want, his intention is to get labor agreements that work for both sides. And I think he has an incredibly successful record on that front" (DENVERPOST.com, 10/30).
Stern Remains Bullish On NBA
Placing Teams In Europe In Future
NBA Commissioner David Stern on Friday indicated that it is "possible there could be a five-team division of NBA teams in Europe in 10 years," according to Sarah Talalay of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Stern acknowledged, however, that "10 years ago he also predicted teams in Europe in a decade." He said that the NBA is "poised to have one of its best seasons on and off the court with increased ticket, merchandise and other sales." But Talalay noted that optimism "comes against the backdrop of a potential labor battle." Stern said, "This is going to be a great season and we would like it not to end with a thud." Speaking before the Magic-Heat game, Stern addressed LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade on the Heat, saying, "I've been at this close to 40 years, and I've never seen anything quite like it. The buzz that was precipitated by the three amigos deciding to spend their careers in Miami, it was absolutely extraordinary." He added, "You think sometimes the world has lost its mind, and of course with respect to the Miami Heat, it has" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/30). Stern indicated that James' arrival in Miami "thrusts the city into a global sports obsession." Stern: "You're going to begin to see Chinese characters in ads in the (AmericanAirlines) Arena. You're going to see the impact of globalization" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/30). Stern also argued that the "digital age of instant information has transformed the old-school notion that the NBA is dependent on the importance of large cities with historic franchises fielding successful teams." He said, "People say to me, 'Well, you got to admit that it would be really good for the league if the Knicks had a great time'. And I say, 'We've had a pretty good run and the Knicks, if you've noticed, haven't had a great team.' So I don't think location means as much as it used to" (FANHOUSE.com, 10/30).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote the NBA "did something no one would’ve ever imagined in this sporting nation: It’s opening week has gone punch for punch with the World Series on the basis of buzz and intrigue, with ratings at historic highs and video streams on the league’s website increasing more than 200 percent." The new-look Heat "promise to be the NBA’s TV eye candy, the can’t-miss villains vanquishing with speed and style and snarl." But despite the good start, Stern "had come to Miami to spread thick his labor gloom and doom, to push his prognostications of imminent financial ruin for owners" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/30). ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson wrote, "Damn you, David Stern. Damn you, owners. Damn you, Billy Hunter. Damn you, NBPA. Why can't I enjoy the official NBA comeback without thinking about how soon it all could end?" For years the league has "been praying for this moment, this post-Jordan moment where it no longer has to desperately rely on or market one superstar player to battle the NFL or NASCAR or Tiger Woods for popularity and love." Well the "moment is here," and it is "time to bask in it." But the CBA expires after this season, and "we're already hearing the words 'lockout' and 'cancellation' applied to next season." Jackson: "That's so wrong. Dead wrong" (ESPN.com, 10/29).
CALLING HIS BLUFF: In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro wrote under the header, "Contraction In The NBA? Don't Make Us Laugh, Commissioner." NBA team owners "didn’t buy their teams, they financed their teams." All of them have "accumulated mountains of debt, which they tolerated because it was all offset by the appreciation of their asset," and now that "balance is way out of whack, and their market needs a major correction." But contraction "won't happen," because teams "move, they don't contract." D'Alessandro: "In this environment, in a world forever altered by greed, we’ve lost our stomach for rhetorical twaddle. Especially when it comes from the Commissioner" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 10/31). In L.A., Mark Heisler wrote, "The NBA is at DEFCON 1, anyway, even considering folding franchises … in a story that somehow broke just before Stern's conference call, in which he wouldn't rule out contraction!" (L.A. TIMES, 10/30). In N.Y., Peter Vecsey wrote Stern's talk of expansion into Europe gives "new meaning to the term addition by contraction" (N.Y. POST, 10/31).
NBA Teams Currently Are Free To Ink Local
Ticketing Deals In Primary, Secondary Markets
The NBA is "discussing a plan that would require league approval of its teams' deals with outside ticketing companies, a departure from its current hands-off approach, as the league looks to maximize the value of future ticketing agreements," according to Lombardo & Lefton of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. NBA clubs currently are "free to strike their own local ticketing deals in the primary and secondary markets, but the league believes that a more centralized structure could help give its teams increased scale and traffic to drive the value of new deals." The league is "expected to ask teams for their primary ticketing sales contracts as it begins gathering data on their various agreements." NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver: "It is about increasing the scale and leverage. We are exploring the issue and we want to be able to give teams other options." The NBA has "no leaguewide deal with an outside primary ticketing vendor and is in renewal talks with Ticketmaster for its secondary ticketing partnership." Exerting control over which outside ticketing vendors teams do business with "would not only improve financial terms of a total deal but could also mirror a more centralized model the NFL is adopting" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/1 issue).